I've previously look at Stadia, which impressed me technically, but I don't really like the business model (pay for service+pay for games on top). GeForce Now is a competitor with a better model (pay for games, and pay for additional features), with the added bonus that (in theory) games you've already purchased from other services can be brought in. Publishers have been a little unhappy about this, however now some Steam games are appearing on the service...so I downloaded the app to see how it looked.
Currently 36 of my Steam Games, from a library of 200, are available on GeForce Now...that's not as bad as it seems, as a lot of the games on there are (to all intents and purposes) junk...bought as part of a pack, or DLC/campaign additions (for example Dawn Of War is 4 games on the list). These days I virtually never play PC games...since lockdown my desk has become a work-only zone, and gaming is conducted on consoles (90% of which is the Switch), so my Steam library is very out-of-date. More and more I'm of the opinion that PC gaming is over-priced in hardware terms (I've done all sorts of calculations around cost vs time vs practicality). I'm scheduled to buy a new laptop next year (on my normal 3-year cycle), and so it's time I had a real think about what I'm buying hardware for.
My first opinions of Geforce Now are...it's a little strange. The initial journey is very smooth...downloading and installing the app...logging into my nVidia account (I already had one for the drivers for my eGPU), linking my Steam account etc. When I went to launch a game it diverged from Stadia in terms of clean journey. I was very obviously booted into a virtual machine, and had to log into Steam on that (the actual app), including a 2FA check. Then I had to "install" the game I'd selected (Hitman 2 in this case). It downloaded/installed virtually instantly, but it's still a strange thing to have to go through. I did a basic setup (moved off WASD to 8456, as is my sinister way), noted that it would not support the native res of my primary monitor (3440x1440) ...not sure if this is a limit of the free service, or some other complexity relating to ultra-wides (addundum - it's a limit of the service right now), but then I was in. I ramped up the graphics settings as much as I could (why not, it's not my hardware running it!).
There were some visible compression artifacts, however I was on Wifi on the 2.4Ghz network, and the app had already warned me this was sub-optimal. With a bit of tinkering I could have connected to the 5Ghz network instead...but at the same time it was entirely playable, and looked pretty good. The screenshot here is a raw dump of the 1920 x 1200 footage. It looks a little soft from compression, but it was smooth and no noticeable lag.
Going back in again took me through the Virtual Machine experience, however I was then already logged into Steam, and the game was installed for me...still not the seamless journey Stadia had, but this is a free service. The 2 upgrades you get for the paid service (currently £5/month) is no max login time (1 hour on the free service) and RTX support. So £60/year to "rent" a high-end GPU...if you work on the normal 3-year hardware cycle, and current GPU card costs, that suddenly looks a really good deal. I could definitely see myself buying a laptop that supports my non-gaming requirements (good CPU, lightweight, basic video encoding support) and using this instead. I think, realistically, a hard-wired internet solution may be needed (and we've already looked at that...if the "work from home" thing becomes long-term, I think running cables to the upstairs offices from the inbound connection downstairs would make a lot of sense, we get some "interesting" wifi issues around 9-10am when pretty much every house in the neighbourhood turns on all their devices and log in).
Can I see this sort of thing being the defacto solution in 5 years? Well yeah, I can actually. We are just about to start round X of the console wars, and I could well believe this is the last hardware console war you ever see, the costs are going up and up to improve the hardware...and yet consoles are significantly cheaper than PC's for equivalent power. We'll soon see how much the GTX3xxx range costs (£1500+ is my bet), and when you start looking at that, suddenly £50/year is sounding like a really good deal. Microsoft have xCloud in the wings, and as they are currently losing the next-gen hype-train war, it could well be that they instead pivot to a service model instead...their one benefit over Sony is the Azure Cloud platform they have been building up for years. Having an 1kg ultrabook as a full gaming machine on the go is a big selling point for me...using any available screen (a TV, a monitor, your phone, the laptop itself) is really compelling. I'm not screaming out for ultra-high FPS, my twitch reflexes went a decade ago, but convenience is definitely a bit plus. It could well be the next "hardware war" is network based, with Wifi 6 coming in, as well as "struggles to go through a paper bag" 5G network services. Or just run some network cables through your house...
Comparing Stadia and GeForce Now? I think GeForce Now is the better one currently...using existing game libraries, and now having such a hard dependency on separate hardware like the Stadia controller. The actual experience is not as slick as Stadia on PC, with the cloud/remote machine nature of the service being more exposed. That can be cleaned up though, and the motivation is clearly there from them.